Cooper to keynote Equality NC event? Seriously?

Never known to be a champion of anything, Roy Cooper today came out ... in favor of marriage equality. I guess it's better late than never. Still, it's kind of amusing to see all the swooning from the folks at Equality NC. Via email:

Dear James,

We're proud to let you know that N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper - our keynote speaker for the 2013 Equality NC Foundation Gala - just announced his public support for marriage equality. With Mr. Cooper's endorsement of the freedom to marry, he joins a fast-growing majority of fair-minded North Carolinians who believe in legal relationship recognitions for LGBT citizens.

Unfortunately, only one day after Mr. Cooper announced he'd be joining us for the Equality Gala, extremist groups like the NC Family Policy Council came out of the woodwork demanding their supporters boycott our annual event, entitled "A Celebration of Home."

We can't let their hate tarnish this amazing momentum in our state. And now we've made it even easier for you to show your support for Attorney General Cooper!

REGISTER NOW *until October 17, 2013, at midnight* for the 2013 Equality NC Foundation Gala - and receive a special 10% DISCOUNT off our regular Gala rate. It's your best shot to join hundreds of Gala attendees who have already vowed to show their support for Mr. Cooper *and* for building a state of Equality.

With your registration today, you'll not only guarantee your seat at the table - at the special "Roy Cooper rate" - to honor our state's top pro-equality champions, but also cement your role in helping to move our state forward in 2014 and beyond.

Again, James REGISTER NOW to help us SELL OUT this year's Gala and send a strong message to opponents of Equality that the *real* North Carolina remains on the right side of history.

For Equality,

Chris Sgro
Executive Director
Equality NC Foundation

P.S. Don't miss this great opportunity to sponsor, support (and be showcased at) North Carolina's signature event for our fast-growing Equality community. If you're a pro-Equality business, organization or individual, email today to become a 2013 Equality Gala Sponsor or Table Host and join our prominent list below!

I have long been an admirer of the work Equality NC does in North Carolina. But just to say it, the special "Roy Cooper rate" would have to be cheaper than free to get me there.


Running for governor

It's amazing to watch what happens as ol' Roy eases into position to declare his candidacy.

Which is why

I'll never willingly vote for ol' Roy. (note, I said willingly)


"...the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be."

Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail

Good move for Roy, bad move for Equality NC

This is a mixed bag at best and only underscores how politically inept Equality NC has become over the past few years.

While it is certainly a worthy goal to bring people along the path to where you want them to be, this type of thundering that Roy Cooper has been a friend of LGBT rights is nothing short of brain-dead stupidity -- and literally ignores his recent policy history.

It saddens and angers me that what passes for an LGBT movement in North Carolina has dropped to another level of incompetence.

Roy gets to burnish "progressive" credentials to try to stomp out primary problems, and Equality NC sells out cheap... again.


Not much of a grassroots

Equality NC's never really been much of a grassroots LGBT organization. Over time, it's become more like HRC - a kind of "in the beltway" organization that only pops its head up for fundraisers. They didn't seem to have much of a strategy that reached out beyond voters in the Triangle during the Amendment One fight.

I don't have a problem with being/playing

... an inside game vs. an outside game (or grassroots vs. grasstops, or whatever you want to call it). Groups can focus on what they think they're good at, and I'm OK with that.

But I do expect a minimum level of competence of any group no matter their focus or strategy, and Equality NC hasn't had that minimum for a while.

And that Amendment campaign was a complete and total disaster. How do you underperform the polls and still trot around calling it a victory? Every group on that steering committee owes LGBT North Carolinians an apology.

This trumpeting of Roy Cooper as some great LGBT ally simply reconfirms the pitiful state of Equality NC's political savvy.


The sad part

The sad part about all this is that NC could use a grassroots-based LGBT advocacy group. There's an active and aware population out there beyond the "beltway" of Raleigh that would contribute money, show up for events, or write those angry letters.

It reminds me of something that happened a few years back when Jesse Helms was running against Harvey Gantt. There was a gay political group connected with the "insiders" in Raleigh that tried to mobilze the community against Helms. During the primary, there was a big split in the group, with the Raleigh insiders wanting the group to back a white candidate in the primary and others from outside the Triangle wanting to back Gantt.

We all know how the election turned out, but most folks don't know the "rest of the story". The main "insider" organizer of the group went on shortly after that to a nice little political consulting job with the national Dems in DC. The person is still involved in political organizing in DC and is one of the "go to" people for representative comments by the media about gay issues nationally or particularly in NC. However, I've talked to several LGBTs in NC that still view them as an opportunist more interested in their own career.

I've no patience for this kind of BS. It's the main reason I don't donate or have anything to do with any LGBT group based in Raleigh or Durham.

If he wants to support marriage equality,

that's great. But his endorsement would have been a lot more timely and effective if he had done so before voters in our state allowed bigotry to be codified in our State Constitution via Amendment 1.

I may have overlooked it, but I don't recall Roy giving an opinion back then.

Cooper opposed the amendment, but didn't support equality

Cooper and his office have had their hand in other anti-LGBT issues in recent years -- not to mention the odious brief they filed days ago in the second parent adoption case (since gay folks can't marry in NC, you can't adopt your partner's child).

Again, Equality NC is selling out cheap to someone who is still fighting against LGBT rights in court.


Bad pr

This is why having Cooper as a keynote speaker for Equality NC is a very bad move.

If Equality NC knew that the Buncombe Register of Deeds was going to do this, it creates a situation where Cooper's role is politicized - it's going to get the hardcore conservatives riled up even more and turn off some moderate conservatives that will see Cooper as a political hack, rather than an Attorney General doing his job with conscience and responsibility.

If Equality NC wanted to work "behind the scenes" with Cooper in challenging Amendment One, that's fine. However, his appearance at Equality NC right now makes it look like a "quid pro quo" - you support my campaign for Governor and I'll do something about your pesky little law.

I don't appreciate anyone using my basic religious freedom and human rights as a "bargaining chip" for a political office, career, or to increase their own social standing and stroke their own ego.

I think we can all agree that we need an Attorney General, Governor and representatives that don't make policy choices based on voting blocks or donations.

In defense of Equality NC

They have some really great people on their staff. I agree there is work to be done and improvements to be made, but it's also easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, and they've dealt with a lot of transition after Ian left. I plugged in during the amendment mostly though the All of Us NC coalition (different than Protect All NC Families) that focused on multiracial organizing with an eye to trainings about conversational based activities/persuasion/mobilization that was inclusive of rural areas, but I'll admit to having done some Monday morning quarterbacking myself too.

I've seen Jen Jones at churches in Rocky Mount, on campus in Greenville, and in the streets in Wilmington. Ben Church was already organizing heavily in the trenches in the triad with No One Left Out and in dropping everything to head up to Minnesota to work hard there on a victory that helped reshape some of the national perspectives on the viability of LGBT equality issues, before he was picked up as their deputy organizer. Chris Speer, Josh, Shawn, and others have been great too.

I've seen them do lobby days, town halls, organizing around the SCOTUS decision, advocacy for employment non-discrimination, and so forth. All this isn't to say there isn't room for improvement, but I want to give Mr. Sgro a full chance to deliver, and despite AG Cooper's history & imperfections, he's going to have a lot of energy around him leading into 2016, so he's not a bad get. With him being the speaker, it means people are reading about LGBT equality activism on the front page of WRAL, not just in their inboxes if they already happen to be on the Equality NC listserv.

There's work to be done yes, but I just want to lift up their hard working staff in this conversation. As someone who works in the nonprofit advocacy sector, I know it's rough to put in 50 hour weeks all the time, have pressure to do more from tons of different directions on a limited nonprofit budget, and then to read somewhere that you're not doing it right.

They're doing it wrong, and they need to know it

Sgro was on their board before they made him Executive Director this year. He's been a part of the continuing disaster there.

When you can't coordinate introducing your signature bills with your usual suspects all working together, you're not worth much at all.


Constructive criticism is fair

So what would doing it right look like going forward? What should their policy goals be in 2014? What should that look like on the ground? Who should their fundraising gala speaker be next year?

I would expect they do

But I think it's better to offer up not just a "you're doing it wrong" without a little bit of "and here's what I think you should be doing instead"

If they don't have a strategic plan, then I'm worried for them too, but I don't have any reason to think a nonprofit of their size wouldn't.

You'd be wrong

They don't, and it shows.

They are in disarray, and this Roy Cooper nonsense is another public manifestation of that lack of structure.


I didn't realize that

Well there's a good recommendation for what doing it right could look like, starting with a strategic plan. I think even with organizations that have one, after the general assembly flip, the redistricting maps, and other changes, it's probably about time for a new one. It's a good time to get on one.

My view on Equality NC

I don't share a view that the organization is in disarray. As I wrote in the original post, I've admired their work for a long time. My comment was only about the choice of Cooper for their keynote address ... and even there I understand the motive. He's likely going to be the Democratic nominee and it's good that he has come around to the right side of this issue.

Let's just call it a case of strange bedfellows.